Adoption of the Paris Agreement: What Comes Next?

On December 12, 2015, the 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) for the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change concluded with 190 countries adopting the Paris Agreement. This historic agreement sets the path for the next phase of climate action. So what has concretely changed? 

New ambition

Throughout COP21, I was struck by the delegations’ strong determination and collective will to arrive at an ambitious agreement. The conference started off with opening remarks from 150 heads of state, all of whom came to emphasize the importance of reaching an agreement that was universal, ambitious, and flexible. This collective ambition was further concretized with the creation of the high ambition coalition. Made public during the second week of negotiations, the coalition was initiated by the Marshall Islands. By the end of COP21, it had expanded to include more than 100 countries from a range of negotiating groups. The high attendance of heads of state and the formation of this new coalition demonstrate that there is unprecedented political will across the globe to take serious, concrete measures to address climate change.

New national commitments

The major innovation within the Paris Agreement is the introduction of nationally determined contributions (NDCs). In the lead up to Paris, countries agreed to submit intended nationally determined contributions (INDC) detailing which mitigation actions each country will take at the national level as part of post-2020 efforts to combat climate change. A total of 158 countries submitted their INDCs, and under the Paris Agreement, countries commit to preparing new NDCs every five years. Each NDC must show a progression and an increase in ambition from the last. This increase in ambition will be particularly important, as mitigation under current INDCs would lead us to a 3°C increase in global temperatures. Starting in 2023, countries will come together every five years to take a look at these national reports, gauge overall progress, and ensure that the NDCs collectively reflect the international community’s highest possible ambition. 

New partners

A reoccurring theme throughout COP21 was the importance of involving non-state actors in climate change projects. Two groups emerged as the focus of these discussions: the private sector and city-level governments.

Many development cooperation funding agencies emphasized the importance of using limited public funds to leverage private resources. Panelists at a range of side-events suggested that blended finance will become an increasingly common feature of post-2020 climate projects. Private-sector representatives, such as Jack Ma, executive chairman of Alibaba Group (pictured right), also attended events to present recent innovations and discuss why they think it is important to involve the private sector in climate change efforts.

Cities were also highlighted as important climate leaders in a number of events at COP21 and are estimated to be responsible for 75 percent of global CO2 emissions. A Climate Summit for Local Leaders was held on the margins of COP21 at the Paris City Hall on Friday, December 4. Cities and sub-national government also featured in a number of official side events. Partnering with the private sector and local governments will be a crucial part of national efforts to implement and progressively ramp up the ambition of NDCs.

What's next?

The adoption of the Paris Agreement was a historical moment for the international community. It has paved the way for a new phase of climate action that includes stronger ambition, stronger national commitments, and stronger involvement from a range of actors. To maintain the momentum created in Paris, the high ambition coalition should not remain just a negotiating group. Countries should draw on this collective determination to ensure that they are all acting as ambitiously as possible to reach the international community’s post-2020 goals for combatting climate change.

Marie-Claire Tuzeneu is an associate in Chemonics’ Haiti and West Africa Division. She attended COP21 with the Samoan delegation.

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